Gordon F. Sander ’72 has written an account of a relatively forgotten chapter of World War II military history, the 1939-40 Winter War in Finland.
“The Hundred Day Winter War: Finland’s Gallant Stand Against the Soviet Army” was published in June by the University Press of Kansas.
“The Winter War was Finland’s proudest hour,” Sander says. “When I first went to Finland 30 years ago, there was no good single comprehensive history of the war.”
When the Red Army invaded the small Scandinavian nation in November 1939, many believed it would be over quickly. Instead, the Finns held off their attackers for 105 days, besting the larger army with superior knowledge of their home terrain and their sisu – “their toughness, their grit. It’s what gets them through their long winters,” Sander says. “The Finns basically skied rings around the Russians.”
While outnumbered, the Finnish ski troops destroyed several Red Army divisions and methodically took out lines of Soviet tanks.
The heroic stand lasted until March 1940 and the Finns were celebrated in the United States and around the world in the early days of World War II – but the acclaim was forgotten when they became co-aggressors with the Germans against Russia the following year.
Sander’s initial challenge when he began work on the book in 2008 was writing a new book on the war for an audience that knew it well. “It forced me to work harder and dig deeper,” he said. “I had to find out things about the war that the Finns didn’t know.”
The book is a real-time chronology, with chapters covering 10 days at a time. Sander explores previously overlooked aspects of the conflict, such as the Soviets’ military strategy and decision to use paratroopers. He interviewed surviving Russian and Finnish veterans of the war, and examined the roles of Finland’s women’s auxiliary force and the large, mostly pro-Finnish Western press corps that covered the war.
The 2010 Finnish edition of the book, “Taistelu Suomesta,” was an acclaimed national best-seller. Sander spent three years revising the book for an international audience; the English-language edition also features maps and a new selection of photographs from the Finnish Army archive.
Sander was a two-term artist-in-residence at Cornell’s Risley Residential College for the Creative and Performing Arts from 2002 to 2004.
Cornell University Press has published two Sander titles: “The Frank Family That Survived” (2007) and a revised edition of his Pulitzer Prize-nominated 1992 biography of Rod Serling, “Serling: The Rise and Twilight of TV’s Last Angry Man” (2012).